The Exodus

Wow. Hard hitting, challenging, amazing. Love this.

Dave Barnhart's Blog

Frans Francken I. Hans skola: Den rike mannen och Lazarus. NM 429
I have seen your religion, and I hate it.
I have heard your doctrine, and I loathe it.
Take away your empty praise songs,
your vacuous worshiptainment.
Your mouth is full of religious words,
but your proverbs are salted manure.

“The sick deserve to be sick.
The poor deserve to be poor.
The rich deserve to be rich.
The imprisoned deserve to be imprisoned.”
Because you never saw him sick, or poor, or in prison.

“If he had followed police instructions,
if he had minded the company he keeps,
he would not have been killed,”
You say in the hearing
of a man hanging on a cross
between two thieves.

“People who live good lives
do not have pre-existing conditions,” you say,
carving these words over the hospital door:
“Who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”

“It is the church’s job, not the government’s,”
say…

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Good News About Hell!

Good News About Hell!

I’ve recently landed on a place of belief regarding hell; what it is, where it is, and what it is for.  For the first time in my life, I have peace, confidence, and even comfort on the whole topic of hell.  Wait… comfort??  We’re talking about hell, right?

Yes, dear reader, you read correctly; comfort.  God is much better than we think or often believe.  He’s also bigger.  Like, WAY bigger.  We have no idea of the far-reaching implications of the Gospel, and His love, O sweet love!! 

First, let’s clarify a bit on hell.  Did you know there are a variety of words and phrases in the Bible associated with what most of us know as hell, and even differing words with differing meanings or context that are translated using the same word, ‘hell’?  ‘Hell’ is frequently a catch-all word used in some English translations of the Bible, and, as a result, we sometimes get the wrong impression or idea of what was being communicated by the original texts. 

‘Sheol’, ‘Hades’, ‘Abraham’s Side (or Abraham’s Bosom)’, death, the lake of fire, the second death, the bottomless pit, the sea, the pit, the deep, ‘Gehenna’ (or ‘The Valley of Hinnom’), outer darkness; these are all terms found within the Bible that are commonly associated with, translated as, or personified in such a way to communicate some sort of concept or image of what most of us westerners think of as ‘hell’.  There is a rich amount of context, imagery, truth, and revelation lost when lumping all these terms together into the typical concept of hell as commonly portrayed throughout most Protestant denominations, especially within American fundamentalist evangelical Christianity.  

Frequently, images are conjured up of a fiery kingdom infested with demons, ruled over by satan; the final destination of unrepentant sinners who have an eternity of torment, torture, and suffering awaiting them.  I believe this portrayal of hell could not possibly be further from the truth.  Even the doctrine of annihilation is decidedly more pleasant than what most western evangelicals believe about hell and how hell relates to mankind.  Yet, I suspect annihilation misses the mark as well. 

For the sake of discussion, I am going to focus on the ‘end game’ picture of what many of us associate with hell; the lake of fire.  As revealed in The Revelation Of Jesus Christ (ref: Revelation 19:20, 20:10, 20:14-15, 21:8), the lake of fire is frequently understood as the final destination of satan, the ‘beast’, the ‘false prophet’, and any of those unfortunate souls who earned an after-lifetime of frying in their own fat for all eternity (hint: the title of this book in the Bible should be a major clue as to the nature of hell and how we misunderstand it).  Hence, when I refer to ‘hell’ in the remainder of this post, I am referring to the lake of fire. 

So! Moving on…

Where is hell, exactly, and just who-in-the-hell made hell, anyway?  I can tell you where hell is not; it’s not outside the presence of God!  Some folks rely on 2 Thessalonians 1:9 as a proof-text to support the idea that hell is eternal separation from God.  As John Crowder likes to say, nobody gets that much privacy!  There’s some potential translational issues with 2 Thessalonians 1:9 that may contribute to a significant misunderstanding regarding hell, but we’ll come back to that later.  

I can also tell you who did not create hell; satan.  Hell is not the kingdom of the devil.  Hell is not a kingdom, period.  The idea of heaven vs. hell is a false dichotomy.  Most of what us westerners believe about hell is propped upon binary thinking influenced by a couple millennia of Greco-western rationalistic, linear thought conditioning.  As a result, we frequently perceive things as ‘either/or’ instead of ‘both/and’.

That’s all fine and good, you may find yourself thinking, but I still didn’t answer the questions I myself posed… Well, let’s see what scripture has to offer!  We find the answer to the previous questions of where and who to be found in a Person; Jesus Christ! 

“In the beginning [before all time] was the Word [Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself.  He was present originally with God.  All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him was not even one thing made that has come into being.” ~ John 1:1-3 (AMP)

“For it was in Him that all things were created, in heaven and on earth, things seen and things unseen, whether thrones, dominions, rulers or authorities; all things were created and exist through Him (by His service, intervention) and in and for Him.  And He Himself existed before all things and in Him all things consist – cohere, are held together.” ~ Colossians 1:16-17 (AMP)

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” ~ Hebrews 1:3 (AMP) 

You see, even hell was created through Jesus Christ, exists in Him, and for Him; He has purpose for hell (and… surprise!  It’s not for torturing His kids).  The very fabric of hell, so to speak, is held together in Jesus Christ, and it’s very existence and function are upheld by the word of His power.  

Further, there isn’t anywhere we can go where we are outside of Jesus Christ; that place just doesn’t exist.  Even David intrinsically knew that the presence of the Lord could not be escaped:

“Where can I go from Thy Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Thy Presence?  If I ascend to heaven, Thou are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou are there.  If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me, and Thy right hand will lay hold of me.” ~ Psalm 139:7-10 (AMP)

David knew that even if he went down to Sheol; death, the grave (and sometimes translated or equated to ‘hell’), God Himself would be there, and would even lead him out of that place!  

So… what is hell?  As mentioned earlier, we’re looking at the final, ultimate, ‘end game’ portrait of ‘hell’ as the lake of fire (ref: Revelation 19:20, 20:10, 20:14-15, 21:8).  We also know that hell exists in, through, and for Jesus Christ.  Let’s take another peek in the Bible for further clarity on the ‘what’ of hell:

“‘Is not My word like fire [that consumes all that cannot endure the test]?’ says the Lord…” ~ Jeremiah 23:29 (AMP)

“For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” ~ Deuteronomy 4:24 (AMP)

“For our God [is indeed] a consuming fire.” ~ Hebrews 12:29 (AMP) 

Starting to see the correlation here?  The very fire of hell itself is God! 

Now, if God is love (and we know that He is, ref: 1 John 4:8, 4:16), then what does that tell you about the fire of hell and the purpose that He has in it?  What indeed is the purpose of this Love that burns so passionately hot, so jealously, that it consumes everything that cannot withstand its flame? 

Let’s jump back into the Bible and find out!  We first see the lake of fire mentioned in Revelation 19:20.  The ‘beast’ and the ‘false prophet’ (whatever they are) have been tossed into the lake of fire at this point.  Skipping forward to 20:10, the devil joins his two pals in the lake of fire.  

We then move on to the final judgment at the throne of God.  All the dead are judged according to their deeds [their whole way of feeling and acting, their aims and endeavors (AMP)] in this scene.  Then, death and Hades [Hebrew; Sheol {the state of death or disembodied existence} (AMP)] are thrown into the lake of fire.  This is significant.  Death itself is consumed by the fiery love of God.  No.more.death. 

Following the death of death, those whose names were not found written in the Book of Life are cast into the lake of fire.  Now, keep in mind, death has already died, which means those tossed into this fiery lake do not encounter death.  This essentially rules out the doctrine of annihilation.  

So what, then?  Eternal conscious torment?  Hmm… not very consistent with ‘God is love’, is it?  I believe God has a better plan for His kids; even the really naughty ones, and, hence, here we enter into the purpose of hell.  

To begin, we know that the last enemy to be destroyed is death (ref: 1 Corinthians 15:26).  If death is the last enemy, then we know that the folks getting tossed into the lake of fire are not enemies of God.

If we backtrack in 1 Corinthians, we come across another picture of Judgment Day in chapter 3.  Beginning in verse 13, we see that each person will have their works judged; disclosed and declared, as revealed and tested by fire.  If those works are burned up under this test by fire, that person will suffer the loss of those works and any associated reward, but will be saved as by fire (KJV); as one who has passed through the flames (AMP); as one escaping through the flames (NIV). 

And there it is. The purpose. 

I believe the purpose of ‘hell’ (the lake of fire) is one of salvation; not that this is an alternate method of salvation compared to the finished work and inclusion of all mankind in Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected.  Rather, I see the lake of fire as the fiery, all-consuming love of God, (existent in, through, and for Jesus Christ) which burns away every ounce of ‘self’; dead works, unbelief, religion, anything that would stand in opposition to the love of God, and anything that would stand in opposition of His kids receiving His love; the revelation of perfect union they have with Papa in Jesus Christ… a union that has existed since before the foundation of the world, a union that existed even at the same time those kids were believing the illusion of separation.  The second death is the death of any stubborn ‘self’, any lie that one may refuse to let go of, that interferes with the participation and enjoyment of union with God. 

I see the lake of fire as, essentially, Jesus, and Him not taking “no” for an answer from His beloved creation; a final cleansing, healing means by which His most resistant, stubborn, naughty kids may realize and receive of the perfect Oneness of union they have with Him, in Him, through Him, and the participation and enjoyment of that union by no means or effort of their own.  I see the lake of fire as, for lack of a better word, a final ‘extension’ of the Gospel, so to speak. 

So… there you have it; the Good News about hell!  

But wait… what about that pesky separation verse in 2 Thessalonians 1:9?  Well, the Greek word ‘apo’ in this text can be translated “away from” as well as “that comes from”, so it’s quite possible (perhaps even likely) that translation bias has influenced some English translations in order to keep with the theme of hell being in a state of separation from God.  2 Thessalonians 1:9 reads distinctly different when translating ‘apo’ as “that comes from”, and seems to fit quite well in the context of the rest of the information and thoughts presented here.  

However, let’s say you want to be a translation stickler and stay with the “away from” separation-promo version of this verse.  This too can be reconciled while remaining consistent.  

If we jump back into Revelation, chapters 21 and 22, we see this vision of the new heaven and earth, and the new Jerusalem.  There’s a ton of interesting points in these chapters, but I’ll try to stay on track.  

We know that there is no temple in the new Jerusalem because Jesus and our Father are the temple in this city (ref: 21:22).  We also know that outside the new city are all the impure (extreme paraphrase here) who may not yet enter it (ref: 22:15).  There you have it.  There’s your 2 Thessalonians 1:9 ‘separation’ if you absolutely have to have it, but you’re only getting it on a technicality at best. 

In this sense, you could say that the impure are outside the city (separated), getting purged in the lake of fire, being ‘saved as through fire’; that they may enter the gates which are never shut (ref: 21:25), drink freely of the water of life (ref: 21:6, 22:17), and experience complete healing (ref: 22:2).  

However, even in all this, separation from God, as it always has been, is an illusion, for the lake of fire, ‘hell’, exists within Jesus.  He’s the one holding it all together.  

You see, the Gospel is so much better, so much further reaching, than we ever could have imagined.  The mercy of God extends to all.  None are left out in this deal, even if it means going through hell.  ‘Jesus loves you’ means soooo much more than we ever thought possible!!  Glory! 

*Major credit goes to The History of Hell by Mark Edward for sorting out so many of the names/personifications of hell in the Bible.*

*Special thanks to John Crowder for his insight on the potential translation issue in 2 Thessalonians 1:9.  Check out his book, Cosmos Reborn, for even more fascinating insights into the finished work of the cross, and the redemption of all creation.  Lotta glory on this book!*

The thorn in the flesh…

thorn

The proverbial thorn in the flesh… As Christians, I think that many, if not most, of us have identified (if not currently identify) with the concept of having a thorn in our flesh.  Perhaps your thorn is a devilish, persistent temptation that constantly keeps you on the edge of teetering over the cliff into sin… or perhaps your thorn is a deeply rooted issue of a very specific sin; a seeming quagmire of iniquity that you just cannot seem to escape.

Perhaps your thorn is a weakness, whether it be physical, mental, emotional…

Or an illness…

Or a chronic disease…

Or an impairment of some sort…

Or… (fill in the blank).

The apostle Paul introduced the Church in Corinth to his own thorn in his flesh.  In 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 7, Paul writes, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassing great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” (NIV)

The Amplified version goes into even greater detail in relating the effects of which this thorn should have in Paul, “…to rack and buffet and harass me, to keep from being excessively exalted.” (AMP)

Harsh words, and a harsh concept.

Paul goes on to say in verses 8 through 9, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”‘ (NIV)

If we jump back to earlier verses in 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, we learn that Paul was caught up to the third Heaven.  In the midst of this experience as well as afterward, Paul had no idea whether he was encountering the Heavenly realm in the physical or only in the spiritual.  While in Paradise, Paul heard things he was not allowed to repeat.

The abundance, the preeminence, the absolutely superiority and sheer magnitude of the revelations imparted to Paul during this experience were so exceedingly great that Paul received a thorn in his flesh to keep him from “exalting himself (NASB), from “being puffed up and too much elated” (AMP), from “becoming conceited” (NIV), from being “exalted above measure” (KJV).

Can we even begin to imagine what Paul might have experienced and heard while in Paradise?  As I ponder this question, I cannot help but quote King David, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.” ~ Psalm 139:6 (NASB)

… And here in lies a problem; the problem, if you will, which I believe to be that we have built a doctrine out of Paul’s thorn; a doctrine that is actually a prison for those who have been set free in Christ Jesus.  This doctrine is a fool’s errand, one that I have gone on many times myself.  Essentially, we read (or are taught) about Paul’s thorn, and then translate Paul’s thorn into our own experiences, presuming (or being taught) that because Paul had a thorn in his flesh, it must be appropriate, perhaps even necessary, or at the very least relevant that we too will or even must bear a thorn in our own flesh.

To state it as simply as I know how, we believe that since Paul’s thorn is in the Bible, and since the Bible is authoritative, then this concept and even experience must be applicable to us as well.

I propose that this is a twisting and a manipulation of Scripture, one that if left unchecked, will lead to our own destruction (cf. 2 Peter 3:16).  Let us not be found among the ignorant and unstable people that Peter speaks about; those who have difficulty in understanding Paul’s letters, and therefore distort Paul’s writings to their own destruction.

Paul had a very unique, very specific experience that carried with it a very specific set of consequences.  Paul’s thorn is exactly that; Paul’s thorn.  There is much teaching and much conjecture about what Paul’s thorn specifically was.  The details are really beside the point, which is why I believe, at least in part, that Paul did not reveal the specific details of his thorn.

Paul knew exactly why he received a thorn in his flesh.  He knew exactly the source and the nature of his thorn.  He knew exactly the purpose and the extremely specific function of his thorn.

How many of us can say the same about the thorns that we claim to have in our flesh?

Beloved brother or sister in Christ, if you feel that you’ve been given a thorn in your flesh, and even more so if you’re claiming a thorn in your flesh with no actual revelation of having been given a thorn, I admonish you to prayerfully seek the Lord in this matter.

If you are a “thorn-bearer”, please take the time and make some space to ask the Holy Spirit if you have indeed received a thorn in your flesh.  If He says, “yes”, then continue to seek His counsel and wisdom.  Ask Him why you’ve received this thorn, what is the nature and source of this thorn, what is the purpose and function of this thorn, and how will He be most glorified through you bearing this thorn if it indeed has been divinely imparted to you by the Lord.

While I cannot affirm either in the positive or the negative that the Lord gives anyone besides Paul a thorn in their flesh, I do believe that most of the experiences we as believers have with bearing thorns in our flesh are rooted in sin reinforced by misunderstanding and misapplication of Scripture.

For many of us, it’s far easier to empower sin to remain in our lives by labeling a sin issue as a thorn in our flesh rather than face the sin, deny the sin any power or place in our lives, repent, and pursue holy living.  Paul didn’t receive a thorn because he was in sin; he received a thorn to prevent sin.

Christ came to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and to release the oppressed (cf. Luke 4:18).

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” ~ Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

“…He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” ~ 1 Peter 2:24 (NASB)

“…His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness…” ~ Isaiah 52:14 (NIV)

Beloved, Jesus Christ bore thorns so that you wouldn’t have to!  Allow the surpassing greatness of this revelation to wash over you.

Let us not be found so prideful, so arrogant to align ourselves with Paul in bearing a thorn without our own experience lining up with Paul’s experience of exceedingly great revelation given in Paradise.  It is this experience that justifies thorn-bearing.

Let us not be found so foolish as to empower sin in our lives under the guise of bearing a thorn in our flesh.  Let us not be found misunderstanding Paul’s words, twisting and distorting Scripture to our own destruction.

Let us instead encounter and experience His mercy; His tender loving-kindness which leads us to repentance.

If you’re claiming a thorn, stop.  Break that off in the mighty name of Jesus.  Do not give sin a place in your life.  Repent.  Pursue holy living.  Christ has empowered us to do so.  He died and then rose again for us to do so.

God Is Disappointed In You…

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…said God never.  Hard to believe, isn’t it?  Really??  God is never disappointed in us, in me, in you??  But how can this be?  In light of what I’ve done (or not done), what I’ve thought, what I’ve said; in light of copious opportunities that I have afforded God to be disappointed in me, how can it possibly be that He is not?

And there in lies the problem.  When we fail to view ourselves, our thoughts, our words, or our deeds in light of what Jesus Christ has done, we wrongly perceive ourselves, and, more importantly, we wrongly perceive God.

When we attempt to relate to God in light of our failures; when we try to figure out what He thinks about us or how He feels about us based on those moments when there seems to be no other possibility than one in which we have disappointed Him, we hold ourselves and our circumstances up in the wrong light; a light which is no light at all.  We must filter our perspective, our thoughts, our emotions, our experiences, and our circumstances through the Light; Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

So what then of this disappointment that we feel, that we struggle with, that we are so sure that God must be feeling about us and towards us?  The struggle we face is, as they say, real… it’s just not of God.  Let us not be so foolish as to rush in to equating the reality of our experiences or emotions with truth!

When we are in that place where we’re questioning or have even convinced ourselves that we have disappointed God, the disappointment that we are feeling is in truth disappointment in ourselves.

We who are in Christ Jesus have this wonderful Helper, Teacher, Guide, Counselor, and Comforter; namely, Holy Spirit, AKA God, literally indwelt right within us.  When we sin, Holy Spirit leads us into that most essential, most critical, most holy place called conviction.  God’s kindness leads us to repentance (see Romans 2:4).  When we understand wrongly about God’s character, when we don’t know or fail to grasp our identity in Christ, when we don’t know His Word, when we fail to take every thought captive to Christ, the enemy swoops right in to twist and manipulate holy conviction, distorting it into a lie that we have disappointed God.

We must remain vigilant in standing guard against these attacks.  Our fight is not against flesh and blood (see Ephesians 6:12).  This includes our own flesh and blood!  When we’re wrestling with feelings that we have disappointed God, guess what?  We’ve allowed ourselves to be deceived!  We’ve allowed the enemy to turn the battle inward, against flesh and blood.

Still not convinced?  Does that disappointment just seem too real, perhaps even seemingly an insurmountable obstacle?  Still wondering how you can be sure God isn’t disappointed in you?

The answer is shockingly simple; He wasn’t ever banking on your performance to begin with (special thanks to John Crowder for that particular golden nugget of profound Truth).  Wait… what?  That’s right!  God was never counting on your ability to please, satisfy, or fulfill Him.

How can we know this to be true?  Easy!  Jesus!  God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (see 2 Corinthians 5:21).  God’s pleasure with us is fully derived out of the righteousness that He credits us with through His Son Jesus Christ.  In the same way that we cannot earn our own righteous standing with God, neither can we earn His pleasure nor can we disappoint Him because none of this depends on us!  He is perfectly pleased and satisfied with His Son; therefore He is perfectly pleased with those who are in His Son.  

We can’t do one single thing to earn His pleasure in us.  It’s all about Jesus!  In Him He is well pleased!  We’re just the benefactors.

Seems ridiculous, right?  Perhaps too good to be true?  Too easy?  Even scandalous?  It is.  That’s grace.  That’s the power of the finished work of the Cross.

It doesn’t quite fit into the human mind or the human heart.  It just doesn’t make sense.  That’s why He makes us a new creation when we surrender to Him; so we can perceive and receive of His goodness and His grace.  That’s why He gives us the mind of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 2:16).  He removes our heart of stone and places within us a heart of flesh (see Ezekiel 36:26).  He actually makes it so we can make some sort of sense of this scandal called grace; so we can drink abundantly of this water of life freely, so we can be convinced that He is, in fact, never disappointed in us, but is fully pleased in us (thanks be now and forevermore to Jesus)!

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” ~ Romans 12:2

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” ~ James 1:5

“…hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” ~ Romans 5:5

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” ~ Isaiah 55:8-9

Got Zeal?

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Zeal is a word every Christian should be familiar with.  The transliteration of the original Greek is zelos, which can be defined in a number of ways, including:

~ eagerness
~ zeal
~ enthusiasm
~ jealousy
~ rivalry

The Noah Webster 1828 dictionary defines zeal as:

“Passionate ardor in the pursuit of any thing.  In general, zeal is an eagerness of desire to accomplish or obtain some object, and it may be manifested either in favor of any person or thing, or in opposition to it, and in a good or bad cause.  Zeal, the blind conductor of the will.”

The Greek root of zelos perhaps best conveys the depth and experience of zeal in the human heart; “zē-“, meaning hot enough to boil. So… what of all this talk about zeal?

David was consumed with zeal for his Father’s house (Psalm 69:9).  Holy Spirit was faithful to remind Christ’s disciples of this very portion of Scripture when Christ cleared the temple in a fury of passionate, righteous anger (John 2:13-17).

The psalmist notes that his zeal has consumed him because his foes have forgotten God’s words (Psalm 119:139).

Paul bragged on the church at Corinth for their zeal (2 Corinthians 9:2).  Paul encouraged the church at Rome to not be slothful in zeal, but fervent in spirit (Romans 12:11). 

Paul reminds us that Jesus gave Himself for us to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).

Jesus encourages the church at Laodicea to be zealous and repent (Revelation 3:19).

To be zealous for the Lord is to be so utterly consumed with passion and excitement and enthusiasm for Him that one can scarcely contain it.  When you’ve tasted, I mean truly tasted, and have seen that He is good, zeal leaps up deep within the chambers of the soul; an all-consuming fire rushing uncontrollably through the mind, body, spirit, soul, and heart of the believer. 

It moves one to tears.

It moves one to laughter.

It moves one to great efforts of courage, bravery, kindness, righteousness, and outrageous acts of lavishing love and adoration on the only One who is worthy of all that we have to give.

I have this zeal.  I do not say this arrogantly or as if I have somehow drummed this up by some act of human will.  This zeal comes from Above.  It is not my own.  I sought it.  I asked for it. 

I stood at an altar call along with dozens of others in front of 30,000+ believers and sang “Let zeal for Your house consume me” over and over and over again, not because I had to or because the worship leader instructed anyone to do so, but because it was the only words I knew to say, to sing, to pray at that specific point in time.  It was the cry of my heart, my most desperate plea, my deepest desire. 

And then the worship band on stage began singing those very words as I was pouring myself out before an audience of One.  They couldn’t hear me.  They didn’t know what I was singing over and over again.  It was one of those mind-blowing moments where something so much bigger than yourself is going on, where Holy Spirit has a clear purpose, a clear design, and He pulls those of the same Heart together in a unity that cannot be accomplished by mere human will.

This zeal exists within me for the purpose of communion with my Father and seeing His glory multiplied on the earth. 

Time and time again this zeal has been quenched.  It’s been told to wait.  And wait.  And wait.  And then wait (weight?) some more.  It’s been told it’s wrong.  It’s been told to mature.  It’s been rebuked, corrected, guided, and misguided.  It’s been counterfeited by that most tricky of experiences; emotionalism.

I’ve even had the Romans 10:2 experience.  Zealous for God!  Yes!  Truth (or so I thought)!  But not according to Knowledge.  I have had to learn (and continue to do so) that zeal comes in different specie.  The Romans 10:2 zeal is a zeal that destroys.  It tears down.  It lies.  It is shrouded in ignorance, but vainly struts about in a front of knowledge.  It convinces one of their own righteousness and pursuit of righteousness (which is no righteousness at all) rather than the righteousness afforded them freely by Christ (the only righteousness).

But that Holy zeal, the real deal, the genuine article, is always there.  It overrides and overrules.  In the lowest of lows or the driest of seasons, in the midst of trials, turmoil, and tribulations, that zeal is abiding deep within, carrying steadily along like an undercurrent.  It.is.always.there.  a constant backdrop to every thought, every emotion, every circumstance, every season.  Zeal for the Lord.  Zeal for His house.  Zeal to see Him glorified, to see His Kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

I don’t always act on it.  Sometimes I’m slothful as Paul warns against, when I should be fervent in spirit.  Sometimes I get more excited about pizza than I do Jesus.  I’m not proud of it, but it happens.  Sometimes I get afraid.  What if the time isn’t right?  What if I didn’t hear the Lord clearly?  What if I haven’t waited long enough?  What if I fail?? 

Wisdom paired with zeal is a formidable combination.  However, what wisdom are we listening to?  God’s wisdom?  Or human wisdom?  Sometimes we coach ourselves out of what Godly zeal is inspiring us to do.  Or maybe we share our zeal with a fellow believer, maybe we go to a leader for direction, and we get coached out of what God is putting on our hearts.  Sometimes that zeal is there and burning passionately for a reason.  Sometimes God wants us to say “yes!” and just go for it, circumstances be damned.  Sometimes we have to craft a whip, kick over a few tables, and clear out that temple.  Sometimes it’s supposed to be ready, fire, aim.  And sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes that zeal has to build on itself, burning brighter and hotter until it consumes everything we touch. 

But it’s always there.  That zeal.  Burning hotly deep down within me.  He’s always there.  He never leaves me, never forsakes me.  He’s my source and my supply.  He creates and fuels that zeal within me. 

Any failure on my part to act on that zeal, to release that zeal, to be fervent in spirit, is not a result of me being a sinner, but rather a failure to realize, believe, and accept that I am a saint, and not by any righteousness or works of my own, but solely by His finished work of the cross.  I’ve been redeemed.  I’ve been bought with a price.  I’ve been washed in the blood.  I’m a new creation!  That’s the power of the Gospel.  That’s the zeal that Jesus has for us.  He makes all things new. 

Got zeal?

The Problem Of Idolatry…

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Idolatry… the struggle is real.

Or is it?

The American dream. The pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of the material. Keeping up with the Jones’. Keeping up appearances. Help comes to those who help themselves. Every man for himself. Survival of the fittest. Safety. Security. Insurance.

Fear.

The list is seemingly endless. We are surrounded by and indoctrinated with lies. Absolute lies. Lies that lead to idolatry. From birth we are trained to stand in defiance of our Intelligent Design and Created Purpose.

I have worshipped many things. As I ponder this and reflect on things Holy Spirit has been faithful to reveal to me over time, it seems I have been guilty of idolatry time and time again.

I have worshipped intellect, knowledge, and reason. I have worshipped myself. I have worshipped self hatred. I have worshipped depression and melancholy. I have worshipped anger. I have worshipped atheism. I have worshipped escapism of varying forms ranging from drunkenness to flights of fantasy to suicidal thoughts.

I have worshipped ideas and ideals. I have worshipped books, sports, music, movies, and various other forms of entertainment. I have worshipped material possessions. I have worshipped money. I have worshipped my job.

I have worshipped friends and family. I have worshipped people who I don’t even actually know. I have worshipped relationships.

I have worshipped church. I have worshipped church community. I have worshipped church leadership. I have worshipped my own personal ministries and giftings. I have even worshipped the Bible, conveniently creating my own trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Bible instead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The depths and wretchedness of idolatry knows no bounds.

I look back on these experiences I’ve had, and I am overwhelmed by the goodness and graciousness of Jesus Christ. He knows me better than I know myself. He knows my struggles and all of my junk, yet through it all He has never left me and never forsaken me. This is amazing. As John Crowder is fond of saying, the Gospel is the only story in existence that is too good to be true, but actually is true.

Since I’ve transitioned into the topic of quotes, I’ll share a couple more that are extremely relevant to what I’m sharing here, and that have had a lasting impact on me, resonating in my mind and my heart over and over again.

From fictional character Tyler Durden, “The things you own end up owning you.”

~ and ~

“Those who worship community inevitably destroy it.” ~ Sean Richmond; shepherd, teacher, and church planter with Antioch Community Church

Moving on…

The topic of idolatry is something that God is passionate about. Of course, that’s like saying the sun is hot.

The Bible is precisely and perfectly clear on many points and topics; the only ones that actually matter, really. Among these, if God is clear about anything in His Word, He is absolutely Christ-al clear (see what I did there, wink wink) that He hates idolatry. This raises the question; why does God hate idolatry?

In examining Scripture, the reasons seem to be manifold, but as far as I have ascertained to this point in time, the main reasons He hates idolatry are:

1.) Idolatry disrupts and redirects the natural flow and reciprocity of relationship that our Father has designed, intended, and passionately desires with His beloved creation; namely, us.

2.) Idolatry robs Him of worship and glory that is solely due completely to Him and Him alone.

Many believe that the first sin committed, the original sin, was pride. I submit that it was not pride, but was actually idolatry (thanks due to Andy Salsky for that invaluable insight). God established intimate relationship with us at the dawn of our creation; we lifted up knowledge as more worthy than intimacy with our Father. The sins of disobedience, rebellion, and pride that have so radically altered the landscape of humanity flowed outward from a place of idolatry that sprung up and poisoned the human heart and mind with a devastating quickness.

Sin is a matter of the heart. When we first decided in our heart that the forbidden fruit was good for food, and pleasing to the eyes, and was desirable for wisdom, we immediately transferred the object of our desire and our worship from the Lord Almighty to our own reason and intellect.

We said in our hearts that we’re smarter than God. We willingly allowed ourselves to entertain deception and then take on the yoke of living under a lie. When we took a bite, it was already too late. By the time we simply looked at the fruit in the midst of our conversation with evil incarnate, our hearts had already welcomed condemnation of the entirety of humanity.

So, in light of all this, why, oh why have I chosen idolatry over and over again throughout the course of my life?

The pre-Cross answer is pretty simple; it was my nature to do so. The inward bent of my heart was to worship anything or anyone but God. Unrighteousness and the profane were my heritage and inheritance.

The post-Cross answer… not so easy at first glance.

I am a new creation. My flesh along with its passions and desires has been crucified. I live life by faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In fact, it’s not even me who’s living this life any longer; it’s Him.

In light of these profound and utterly life-transforming truths, how, how, HOW could I possibly ever have chosen idolatry in the 12-plus years that I have been yoked to Christ?!! It doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense.

If my flesh has been crucified, how/why does it seem so very, very alive?

If I am a new creation, why does it seem like I still have my old sin nature?

If my battle is not against flesh and blood, why does the struggle against my flesh continue to go on?

While this may seem like a quagmire of epic proportions, the answer is shockingly simple for why any follower of Christ chooses to think or behave in any manner that is contrary to to who we are in Christ;

Lies.

Plain and simple. Lies. The Original Problem of deception still haunts those of us who have tasted and seen that He is good, but only if we allow it to.

Post-conversion sin, including but not limited to idolatry, only happens as the result of our failure to believe, accept, think, and act on who we are in Christ thanks to the finished work of the Cross. The truth is, when we as followers of Christ struggle with sin, we are wrestling with a corpse. There is no truth in the fight or the struggle. We shadow box.

Why do we fail in this regard? Again, the answer is simply lies. Many of us don’t know we’ve been lied to. Many who tell these lies don’t know they’re lying. Some of us have glimpsed Something greater, full of purity, joy, and hope, only to have it snatched away by lies. Some of us have encountered the Truth, but it seems too good to be true so we wrap ourselves in our familiar cloak of untruth because it’s what makes sense; it’s what adds up based on our experiences.

So… what exactly are these lies that I speak of? What lie is so great, so heinous, that the believer falls into sin; that the believer goes tripping and stumbling into idolatry?

The specific lie I am primarily referring to is the teaching that the believer is a new creation (and even more so that the believer is becoming a new creation), but the believer also remains in tainted, unsanctified flesh; that the believer may be saved, but the sin nature is still present for the believer to continue to wrestle with.

This is a doctrine of demons. It infiltrated the Church at a very young age and has been handed down over centuries from generation to generation, sometimes (probably mostly) completely unknowingly, in order to cripple the believer and rob humanity of the glorious finished work of the Cross.

Let me be clear; there is no Biblical support or evidence for the sin nature to exist in the heart, mind, body, or soul of the believer. There is no Biblical support or evidence that the natural man and the Spiritual man share real estate in the believer. The believer is not spiritually pure and physically unholy. The believer is not partially regenerated. The believer is not filled with the Spirit and then left with a corrupt mind and deceitful heart.

The flesh is crucified; not wriggling around on the Cross trying to get off and get back in the believer. The believer is not becoming a new creation; he or she is a new creation. We are not being sanctified, we are sanctified. God blesses us with the gift of faith and salvation by His grace alone; as a result we are regenerated and filled with the Spirit. He does all the work; we reap the benefits.

When we fail to realize this, when we are robbed and cheated out of the truth and the power of the finished work of the Cross, we end up in bondage, laboring under lies. We create programs and processes to achieve sanctification, to kill off the old man, to wage war against the sin nature.

10 steps to holiness. 58 spiritual disciplines to empower the believer. You name it, it’s out there. We think and behave as if we can add something to the Cross and Christ crucified, as if His finished work needs a little help being finished. Guess what our little sanctity trips add up to? Idolatry.

While there is no Biblical evidence to support or validate a dual nature of the believer, there is plenty of misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and misapplication of Scripture that does support this dualistic heresy; this ultimate lie that cripples, divides, and destroys the Body of Christ. We twist and manipulate the Word to our own destruction. There is also plenty of spiritual warfare going on all around us, principalities and powers of darkness whose sole mission is to get us to drink the Kool Aid.

We don’t need a process of sanctification. We need a revelation of sanctification. We don’t need to kill off our old man. He’s already dead. We don’t need to war against sin nature. We need to rest in Christ. He already fought the war and won.

It is not my intent to minimize or somehow denounce those of us experiencing these struggles. I myself have been wrestling with a corpse for years, and am just now coming out from under the lie. I’ve struggled to understand and accept who I am in Christ for many years. I’ve believed lies because the lies lined up with what I’ve experienced. As a result, I’ve gone chasing things or elevating things to an unholy place of worship because those things were more tangible to me as a means of satisfaction and fulfillment than the finished work of the Cross.

I glimpsed Something extraordinary here and there; something true, something pure, something holy, but I would talk myself out of it, or be taught out of it, or just flat reject it because it seemed too good to be true. The lies said it was. This Something that I would catch a glimpse of is a Someone: Jesus Christ crucified and His perfect, complete, finished work of the Cross.

This is what living under lies looks like. This is what idolatry looks like. It seems real at the time, but it’s not true. The experience seems real at the time, but it doesn’t represent actual truth for those who are in Christ Jesus. My faith was/is in Christ, but I was destroyed for a lack of knowledge. The struggles with sin and with the flesh that we face do indeed seem so very real; so very tangible.

A most critical error is in elevating our experiences as truth in place of the truth of the Word. We say to ourselves and even to others, “I am experiencing this struggle, so this struggle is therefore real, so this struggle is therefore true.”

We need to filter every experience through the Word, and that through proper understanding of the Word, especially in terms of context. When we experience a struggle, when we commit a sin, we must not validate and confirm truth through our experiences. We must go to the Word and see what God has to say about who we really are and just what He accomplished for us through the finished work of the Cross. We must go to God and ask Him what He thinks of us and who He sees when He looks at us. And we must repent. THAT is reality. THAT is truth.

The battle is in our minds. We must renew our minds. This is challenging. It means shaking off some doctrine. It means asking some questions and admitting that maybe what we’ve been taught or what we think we know isn’t really the Gospel in its pure, unadulterated, completely radical, supernaturally powerful, Spirit filled, and totally authoritative form.

It’s time for a lens change; one in which our experiences take a back seat to Truth; the truth of the finished work of the Cross; the truth of God’s Word. It is time for us to resolve to know nothing among ourselves but Christ, and Him crucified.

I believe the three most significant words in the Word of God is, “It is finished.”

Jesus didn’t say, “It is being finished.”

He said, “It is finished.”

Idolatry, or any other sin for that matter, doesn’t stand a chance against Jesus Christ crucified. No lie will prevail against the glory and the power of the finished work of the Cross.

Don’t take my word for it… Jesus taught it. Paul got it probably better than any person in past, present, or future. Let us ask Holy Spirit to give us eyes to see and ears to hear, then open the Bible and discover Truth, perhaps for the first time.